Belfast Telegraph

Munster’s strength in depth may thwart O’Connell’s plan to return

Paul O'Connell may be fit and raring for a return to the Heineken Cup with Munster after his injury nightmare — but he doesn't believe he deserves a place in Tony McGahan's starting line-up.

As the Ospreys reel from the news that broken thumb victim Lee Byrne will miss the crunch double-header after going AWOL from a crucial medical check-up with his national side, Munster are in rude health for the back-to-back clashes.

“I'm not too sure at the moment, really,” O'Connell replied when asked whether he might be considered ready for a starting berth this weekend.

The 2009 Lions captain has compiled only 40 minutes for Young Munster and a late cameo from the bench for Munster last weekend during his belated comeback.

“That would be up to the physios and the coaches really. At the moment coming off the bench is ideal for me, and clocking up minutes that way is ideal for me.”

Mick O'Driscoll and Donncha O'Callaghan have formed a sturdy second-row partnership for Munster and indeed Ireland during his prolonged absence, while Donncha Ryan's return from a three-week suspension broadens the options for McGahan.

“I think I would struggle to get into the team at the moment,” he admitted. “I think there's a level of second row performance there from the lads.

“I don't think I'll be needed to start but if I was I don't think I would have a problem with it. I may struggle for 90 minutes but I wouldn't struggle to start.”

Meanwhile, the Ospreys are confident of overcoming on appear the two-week suspension handed down to breakdown specialist, Kiwi Marty Holah, following his trip on Edinburgh's Chris Paterson during last weekend's Magners League win.

Holah would be a crucial loss for the Welsh side, especially as the furore grows within Wales at Byrne's controversial absence from a Welsh RFU medical appointment. Byrne sustained the injury in last month's Autumn International against New Zealand and missed Saturday's 33-16 victory over Edinburgh as a result.

His absence from a consultation organised by the Welsh Rugby Union led to a delay in discovering the severity of the injury, and in a sharply worded statement, the Ospreys said: “The Ospreys were unfortunately not in a position to confirm the severity of the injury at an earlier date.

“This was despite it being flagged up by the WRU after Lee failed to attend a consultation with a specialist that had been arranged by the Union. He then failed to report to a scheduled screening on his return to the Ospreys. This meant the medical team were not in a position to effectively confirm a diagnosis of his injury status until late last week. On account of this, he was named in the initial match-day squad for the Edinburgh match until the severity of the issue became clear.”

Irish international Tommy Bowe is a likely contender to slot in for Byrne, although either Barry Davies or the versatile James Hook would seem to be more likely contenders.

Belfast Telegraph

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